Simone Biles (as I write this...new Bruin!) and her return to competition for the first time since Antwerp was the big excitement and draw. Her ask.fm previously provided the information that she wouldn't be doing the Cheng this year and that her bars are currently downgraded. Understandable, given her shoulder issues. What I was hoping for was strong floor, usual great Amanar, and improvement on beam with the inclusion of her new BHS-LOSO-LOSO.
But, her floor..absolutely blew me away. I've watched it at least 10 times by now and it still has my eyes out on stalks. Is 15.8 crazy? Yes, but so is that floor. She legitimately leaves barely anything to deduct. I can't believe her landings. Not just how controlled they were, but how upright, she's had issues before with both DLO variations. As far as artistry goes, the music suits her and the choreography too. It's much more fluid and a much better effort than her previous routine. The smile and charisma still coming off in waves...I live for her huge grin after slamming her passes. It may not be the greatest demonstration of artistic gymnastics we have yet seen, or your favourite, but it is THE strongest floor routine I have ever seen, ever. And you won't even get me to admit it was more in the 15.4 range.
|Simone. Copyright - John Cheng|
Amanar was as strong as usual, I'd like to see her stick that this year. The Lopez was strong in the air but her block looked a bit troublesome, as if she did not get her hands down correctly. It is testament to her power that the only issue otherwise seen was the slightly low landing, she was fully able to get the vault around. She'll be looking for a much sharper version of that at Nationals. I expected slightly dodgy bars and she had an issue at the start right enough, but she picked up and it ended up being a decent routine with another great landing. Beam could have been stronger too, she had a sizeable wobble and a missed connection but good lord, her BHS-LOSO-LOSO is so beautiful, which is so unexpected from a tiny powerhouse.
All in all, Simone kicked ass and took names. A truly dominating performance which put to rest any immediate concerns over her wellbeing. I expect her to be even stronger again at Nationals. At this point, there is a strong argument that she is the greatest gymnast ever. Wow.
It was nice to see Kyla back after uncharacteristic weaker performances from her earlier this year. The whip-double arabian was nice, but as she found it hard to get the stag from it cleanly in training, didn't manage in competition, and she had to drop the full-in...I don't see it as a permanent fixture. Seriously strong landings from her and consistently great performances. I'd like to see her truly be able to challenge Simone and upgrade her beam and bars significantly but it seems like that's never going to happen, so I'll stay content watching her refreshingly steady and clean work. She's going nowhere from the AA this year anyway, but this position is a little in jeopardy when Bailie Key arrives on the scene.
It was disappointing to see Kyla do a low difficulty bars routine, I'd really hope she can bring it back to 6.4 in time for Nanning. It won't matter for the team that much, but it certainly will for her chances of repeating a medal in bars finals.
I was really looking forward to seeing strong, assured 'pick-me-or-you'll-regret-it' routines from Brenna Dowell. Alas. She threw an extremely ambitious bars routine but had major problems with each high-low transition and ended up jumping down instead of dismounting. A very wise decision given that she apparently is carrying an ankle injury, and may have tweaked it during the routine, or just lacked the energy after dealing and recovering from two big errors. Nevertheless, this is a disaster for her chances this year unless she is totally fine by Nationals. Hopefully they'll have a plan for her bars at least, that she'll do lesser difficulty if the full routine isn't consistent in podium training. Her vault could be valuable for them this year, but it sounds like a bad idea with a foot injury. Sad to see her like this, especially since she deferred Oklahoma for a shot at this worlds team.
Rachel Gowey was most interesting. Crashed her amanar, but really nice floor and beam work. Bars are not really happening for me. Her speed and block on vault were totally off, perhaps just nerves, as she has been landing them fairly well otherwise. I'd like to see her work on it rather than lose it, if she can land it decently..her long lean frame isn't typically suited however. As for floor, a wild 3.5 landing (fully rotated though!) brought her score down, as did a frankly bad turn combination which likely was not credited at all. I live for her triple full though. She's an odd combination, gorgeous lines and dance, some power moves despite long, frail frame, but...dodgy leaps. I'd like to see her on the team for her beam alone, but she certainly has more up her sleeve to offer a team than that, she just needs to work on it.
Madison Kocian conformed the wisdom of fan's pre-selection of her for worlds with another strong bar routine, earning her 15.4. There's a healthy number of minor form issues with it, legs flickering apart being my bugbear. Nevertheless, they were very strong. So...beam? A fall, and another ankle tweak. Very depressing, but maybe just a precautionary measure and she'll come back strong for Nationals at least on her strong events. However, she's perpetually injured so that's not really encouraging.
BUT...a bars/beam specialist has emerged from nowhere! Ashton Locklear posted a phenomenal 15.7 for her bars, and followed that up with a very decent 14.55 on beam. Hers is a name I've been seeing in lists of camp attendees, but no further information. A bolt from the blue for almost everyone I would say. I love her bars composition, piked inbars, BIG Jaeger, very Russian combinations. She had gorgeous long lines also. But, the form errors were not really taken into account...flexed feet on all of the inbars and on other occasions, legs coming apart on top of the bar and in transitions, messy Pak and sloppy bail. In light of that, the score was several tenths too high. It's a fabulous routine but there's lots of little things wrong, I'd love to see her work on them.
|Ashton. Copyright - John Cheng|
Her beam had gorgeous lines but with those lines..form errors stand out a mile! Bent knees in her LOSO, dodgy back leg on some of her leaps. Her leaps are weird...some were really good, some quite bad. Don't get me wrong, I'm really impressed with her, just not blown away by her form. As a complete and utter new girl, she has loads of time to work on the small things. In the meantime, she needs to stay consistent as she could easily end up on this team, especially if Madison can't come back in time.
Mykayla Skinner had a lot to prove, and unfortunately it didn't really work out. The confirmed loss of Mckayla Maroney for this season and another injury for the ever-plagued Lexie Priessman remain massive points for her inclusion, as does the uncertain status of Brenna Dowell, but her coaches need to get.it.together. She has not been injured as far as we aware so there was no excuse for her somewhat poor conditioning. But, no matter what shape she's in, that floor routine is officially too much for her and they need to fix it. Simone does her incredible difficulty with ease, but halfway through and Mykayla struggles, with another fall borne from pure exhaustion. It's not acceptable to still have the wrong skill selection for her. It's great to see an underdog do well, not so great when their coach isn't making the best decisions for them. Vault, well even though the one-handed Cheng block works for her, I'd still prefer the standard approach and I thought it was fair her execution suffered as a result. Kyla should not be beating her score on that vault, it would be nice if that served as a wake-up call of sorts.
I AM very impressed with her beam, that full in combination is just so glorious. One of the best ever done surely. She has improved overall but there's a long path to go.
Nica Hults just did bars, and Maddie Desch just bars and beam. Both have faded considerably which is sad to see. Nica in particular was an option for worlds with her steady beam and bars, but she doesn't seem to be in contention anymore. Amelia Hundley had a good outing, with really nice floor work in particular, but definitely isn't what she could be...throwing an FTY isn't a good sign. She has been injured and more than likely will do better in time, but I don't see her fitting into the worlds team regardless.
Maggie Nichols, on the other hand, had a very good day, placing third in the AA! She's very reminiscent of Aly Raisman and could fulfil the exact same role...the steady, solid powerful one who goes up early in the rotation in team finals. She can fill in anywhere, even her bars are half decent.
Overall, aside from the top 2 and Ashton Locklear, this was a messy, rough competition with too many injuries, absences, and gymnasts scratching events. We've definitely come to expect roughness from Classics but I feel like we should at least be seeing more gymnasts, and more doing more events. It speaks volumes of the rigours of the code when even the US are struggling with it. I say struggling in full knowledge of the depth they have and their ability to cope with knockbacks, a luxury other countries don't have, even the rest of the top 4. Hopefully we will see more faces, and stronger performances at Nationals.
Bars Some really nice routines on display
Comebacks Simone Biles back for the first time since worlds, and in explosive fashion
Improved artistry Kyla and Simone both sold their routines, old and new respectively, better than ever
Absences, injuries, scratching Worrying
Of our medallists, I loved Simone's. I did think the side panels looked vaguely like windows into her organs, which is a weird thing to say. Still, a great leotard, colours wise and style wise. Kyla's had potential but ended up being dull...the lighter purple colour needed to be broken up more. Maggie's was quite cookie-cutter USA but still nice.
|Simone. Copyright - John Cheng|
I am a sucker for white, and for white trim against black mesh. Lovely use of pink. Ticks so many boxes even if I think we're looking at her lungs.
|Madison Desch. Copyright - John Cheng|
Honourable mentions: Ashton Locklear, WOGA and CGA as mentioned in the juniors post
Dishourable mentions: Again, a lack of scope here. I didn't like the mesh on Mykayla Skinner's gorgeous shade of blue leotard, and it ruined it for me.
How many times have you watched Simone's floor? (Embedded below for convenience). Who is on your team now - has Ashton blasted her way in? Can Kyla get any taller?